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Trust Your Training

Trust Your Training

B Company, 2nd Battalion, 228th Aviation Regiment
Fort Rucker, Alabama

When I found out my application for the Fixed-Wing Multi-engine Qualification Course was approved and I was selected to attend, I was very excited. However, I was a little apprehensive — not about the overall course, just one area in particular. Instruments, better known as instrument flying rules, means instrument flight planning and flying for pilots that are familiar with it and the references in the publications.

You may be asking yourself, “Why would a senior Army aviator be nervous about a specific area of flight?” First of all, let me tell you a little bit about myself. I have been an Army aviator since 2007, when I graduated from the OH-58D(R) course at Fort Rucker, Alabama. I have deployed multiple times over my career in support of Operation Enduring Freedom and to the Republic of Korea. I have flown numerous incident- and accident-free hours over that time period, but did not log much actual instrument or weather time. Enough about me, though; let’s get to the point of this story.

As I was saying, I was excited to start learning more about airplanes and how to fly them. I was coming from the scout community, where our airframe was only authorized to fly under visual flight rules. It is not rated as an instrument-capable aircraft, so I was a little anxious about IFR. Yes, we flew some using instruments only, but it was for practice and we were not authorized to fly into the clouds. When we did happen to fly into the clouds, it was known as inadvertent instrument metrological conditions and was an emergency because, as I stated earlier, our airframe was not rated as an IFR aircraft. So, you can see why I was a bit apprehensive, just because it was something I was not very familiar with and hadn’t done in quite a long while.

I had my first IFR training flight in an airplane on a clear blue 22 kind of beautiful day where you can see everything around you and on the ground. Needless to say, I was excited to continue my training the next day. When I woke up the next morning, I was not as excited; turns out it was not going to be like yesterday at all, weather-wise that is. I got to the flight line for my pre-mission brief, and all I could see was areas of green and yellow on the radar. It was going to be one of those Alabama sunshine kind of days. You know, where it’s raining and you still need to wear your sunglasses.

It was a legal and approved brief to go fly our training period. I went to my aircraft assignment and was told I would be flying with a different instructor pilot from the one I flew with the previous day. So, as expected, I got a little more anxious about the flight — a new IP and we had weather moving in all around.

We sat down and did a thorough crew brief, especially since it was our first time flying together, covering all of our areas of concern for the mission, which was a Day 2 training flight. We conducted our preflight and got in the airplane and took off just as I did the prior day. This time, however, on climb-out I punch into a cloud deck about 1,000 feet above ground level and started flying based on my instruments. I hadn’t flown actual weather time since flight school some eight years earlier. I was a bit rusty, but I did a good job, if I do say so myself. My IP may have thought differently, but he didn’t tell me, so I’m going to say it was good.

As we continued our climb, we broke out of the clouds about 3,500 feet MSL and my IP told me to look outside. I will never forget what it looked like: there were cloud formations going in every direction and it was difficult to find the true horizon. I immediately got the leans, which is a form of spatial disorientation where a person cannot determine their position, attitude or movement relative to the Earth’s surface. I told the IP what was happening. He said to try and fight through it and to let him know if I was unable to do it, if it got worse or I wouldn’t be able to continue.

I fell back on my training and focused on the instruments. I then remembered a phrase I was taught early on: Never fly VMC and IMC at the same time. I continued to focus on the instruments and flew the aircraft in and out of the clouds without incident, even though I was still suffering through the leans. We continued our flight period and landed with a little over one hour of actual weather time, which seemed like an eternity to me at the time.

It was a long day but a great experience that showed me I retained my training from years earlier. It also reinforced my trust in the instruments, showing me they worked as designed.

  • 26 June 2016
  • Author: Army Safety
  • Number of views: 1307
  • Comments: 0